A Romanian in Mexico with a football story
TL;DR: I signed up to run a marathon in Mexico at the end of October 2021. The event itself was scheduled for a weekend only, but instead I booked a fly ticket for 3 and a half weeks. With the hope that there will be enough time to eventually find an Ilie Dumitrescu, Club America 1996–1997, shirt:
The long story below covers my visit to Estadio Azteca, football impressions from a Romanian football fan in Mexico, and present, through pictures, some experiences I had. Most of the artifacts and football items that I collected from Mexico will be shown through my collection page @onromanianfootball on Instagram.
Sadly, at the end of the trip I have not found that particular shirt.
I am a ridiculous shirt football aficionado*. What stimulates me collecting so many (currently 367 shirts in my collection) is this peculiar relationship between a club heritage and the colors they stand for.
*My favourite shirts designs come from Serie A (Italy), Liga MX (Mexico), Major League Soccer (USA) and J1 League (Japan)
Once, as a fan, you start to support a club, you are involuntary, inheriting the love for their colors too. In the end players come and go but the colors will always be there. Displayed from decades to decades in different forms and shapes. Such as the player shirts.
Growing up with Romanian football I am biased to love our colours. Yellow mainly. Long way over the ocean there are teams that use the same combination of colors like our beloved flag: Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela etc.
In particular the one team I am really fond of their colors, shirts and crest is Club America in Mexico:
Back in 1994, club announced the hiring of Dutch manager Leo Beenhakker. For the next two years the club will announce international signings such as: Cameroon international François Omam-Biyik (3 World Cups participations) and Zambian national team captain Kalusha Bwalya who was coming from PSV.
In 1996, Ilie Dumitrescu would leave Premier League, after short stints at Tottenham and West Ham United, and go to Mexico, where he would join Club America. The idea of world-class players flocking into Mexico reached the ears of his agent back then: Ioan Becali. Who took Dumitrescu to Mexico City and signed the contract in the Azteca locker room at halftime during a friendly between Club America and Valderrama’s Deportivo Cali.
Such a shirt of a Romanian international playing so far from home should be the crown jewel of any Romanian football collector. And this is one of the goals of my collection. Having that shirt. Thus I went to Mexico with this mindset.
Landed in Mexico City one week before the marathon event. The plan was that in the first phase I would walk and scout locations where I could start my in-depth search once I finished and returned from my run in Northern Mexico, which was in Chihuahua state.
I checked all the ongoing and future games from Liga MX that would be played in Mexico City that I could attend, checked if there is a sports museum to visit, checked the possibility to do stadium guided tours, checked on instagram Club America collectors living in Mexico City, checked all the sports and vintage shops on Google Maps in the area I would be living and so on.
Mexico x Romania
Mexico is something that is brought into Romanian football culture when we talk about the 1970 World Cup. There are some legendary stories related to that Romanian national team that they are always brought up from time to time on social media pages.
One is that Mr. Mircea Lucescu swapped shirts with Pelé at the end of a group stage game. The only Romanian player that has ever done that swap.
Another story is how the Romanian kits were lost by the airline company and some handmade shirts were bought from a local “mercado” in Guadalajara, which were a light pale blue. The first and last time that color was used for the Romanian national shirts. The numbers and crest would be added with pins.
But besides that there is nothing else mentionable about Mexico in our local football culture. Some fans of the 90s generation might have a thing or two to say about Cuauhtémoc Blanco trick from 1998 World Cup: The Cuauhtemiña.
So I woke up the next day and googled Estadio Azteca which is probably the most well-known football term in Romania related to Mexico. Surprisingly, to me, the stadium has their own website and its own logo. Thus I found out it is possible to visit during a non-game day. Took a cab and went straight there.
El Templo Del Fútbol Mexicano
This is what you see for the first time when you open the door of your cab. Walked around to find some sort of booth or entrance as the main gate was closed. Asked the guards. They directed me to Gate 2. While entering the gate I was approached by a young man and immediately I opened my mouth saying: “Azteca tour?” and I pointed the finger at the “Gate 2” sign. He tried to explain to me in simplified English, that, yes, this is it, and that the tour would be in Spanish, with a price of 150 pesos. Cash, no card. If I agree he told me to be back in 30 minutes as there was already a tour going on.
Halfway through the tour I tried in my poor Spanish to ask the guide about Ilie Dumitrescu as the tour was going in directions more related to Club America history. He shrugged his shoulders and looked confused. He did not remembered him or whom he was. Then I realised my quest will be harder than I thought. I stopped asking questions and enjoyed the rest of the tour which approximately took 50 minutes.
The Estadio Azteca is the only football stadium in the world to see both Pele and Diego Maradona lift the World Cup trophy. Is it also the stadium where Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal happened:
Considering I have seen and done other stadium tours around the world, there is nothing special to expect if you want to go for it. It is just a standard tour going through the players locker room, media area and walking next to the pitch. The tour presents the same information that you can find on Wikipedia page.
Me going for the stadium tour made me think I might get some leads on that 1996 shirt. In my previous tours the guide would have covered a trophy room or something more like a museum. It was not the case here. So I left the stadium disappointed, but not before checking out the Club America shop, which is by the main entrance. As a heads-up the prices are like in Europe and North America, and there were no exclusive items being sold for us, the collectors.
Pumas 3:1 Tijuana, 24.10.2021
Day 4 in Mexico City. I decided to go see a game of Pumas which was at noon. There are 4 teams that play in town at a top level: Club America, Pumas U.N.A.M, Cruz Azul, and Atlante F.C. With the last one going through some rough patches in recent years. Our beloved libero Miodrag Belodedici played for them in the 90s, Dumitrescu too for one season.
My main reason that I wanted to see the game was because of their stadium: Estadio Olimpico Universitario. It was the centrepiece of the 1968 Olympics, hosting the opening and closing ceremonies, and the athletic events. It is part of a complex of UNAM university buildings that has been given World Heritage status. Which makes it the only stadium in the world with that “special” status. Like Azteca stadium this is also built by blowing up volcanic rock.
Mexico City sits at the center of a high valley, 2000 meters in the air, surrounded by volcanoes. Over a millennium and a half ago, a volcano called Xitle erupted. Molten lava poured into the valley and covered around 50 square kilometres in a bed of volcanic rock. Today, most of this lava field has been paved over with roads and buildings and parking lots including the area where Azteca and Olimpico were built.
At Pumas game is where I start interacting with fans and I experience a local game day experience. I befriended a Pumas fan that had grown up in Ensenada and life events brought him to Mexico City. When I asked about the team he supports, he said:
“I don't really care man, all of them are owned by corrupted people. I am sticking to Pumas since I moved here, I feel they are a team I could cheer up for and relate to them.”
At the end of the game he introduces me to his cousins whom had sitting in a different area of the stadium. His cousins were two hardcore Pumas fans that come bi-weekly at the stadium. Now I am starting to understand why he made his choice. Pumas have been always the underdogs in their rivalry with Club America. America was always the club that had cash flow positive from various investors while Pumas was the university team having to make a living with the bare necessities. In Romania we would have "FC Sportul Studențesc București" as similar to Pumas.
One of the things that struck me in the stands and at the end it was the high presence of a women’s fanbase. Screaming from the bottom of their lungs and living all the game moments on the edge of their seats. That is something I have not seen in any Romanian stadium.
At the end of the game I stayed with my new friends in the exit parking lot, having beers and listening to cumbia. Afterwards, I was invited to have lunch with them at a local restaurant. This is where we did a cultural exchange of football impressions between Mexico and Romania. And I invited them to attend a game with me at National Arena in Bucharest.
From them I also learned that I should not bring up anything related to Club America to a Pumas UNAM gathering. So another dead end on my pursue of that Dumitrescu shirt.
On my way back from lunch I went through Pumas fan shop which was by the stadium. Same experience as I had at Club America. So do not make these two shops as “must check” if you are having a trip to CDMX and you are a football collector. There is nothing in these shops that can’t be found online.
I leave Mexico City immediately after Pumas game. Fly into Chihuahua where I would spent the following week. Coming back to the capital I go through Zacatecas and Toluca by car, hitchhiking with an American. I did not have any luck in meeting other football fans on my way back.
America 0:0 Monterrey, 06.11.2021
So here I am after almost 3 weeks without any leads. In front of the Azteca stadium. It was me and the ticket scalpers who were roaming around. Everybody is minding their own business. Them trying to sell overpriced tickets and me asking employees at Club America fan shop if they have seen “this shirt”.
In Mexico, the ticket scalping game is going strong. There is an enforced rule of 4 tickets per person. So if you want to buy tickets online, via ticketmaster, you are limited to 4 tickets only. Which is fine. But then tickets are also available for sale at the stadium many days before the game. The same rule applies there also.
So the scalpers are bringing friends and relatives with them to buy multiple tickets from the ticket stand at the stadium, rather than online. And then during game day they would come like sharks around you trying to sell them at a higher price than normal. Because guess what, all the good seats are sold out online and “offline” many days before the game. Azteca is a huge stadium and rarely gets sold out. So this practice is somehow benefiting the club too, as they “sell” tickets. So no reason to look and solve it for the average fan whom wants to get some decent priced seats.
The game was scheduled for 19:00 that day and I would be in front of the stadium at 10:00 in the morning. While I was down there I also entered the line for game tickets. Which took approximately 1hour.
I noticed from my Pumas experience that during game day, “self-employed” merchants will set tents outside the stadium, such as in the parking lots, and start selling bootleg merchandise. From fake and unlicensed shirts to flags and pins. So I decided to spend all my day, until kickoff, by asking these merchants if they know somebody having that shirt.
There is nothing to do around the stadium as a tourist. So I would occasionally do mini-trips from the stadium back and forth that morning. Instead of playing the waiting game, I would wander for 1 hour in different directions, hopefully stumbling upon something football-related.
Everytime when I would come back from my mini-expeditions to the stadium area, there were more merchandise tents popping up. So I would go and approach the new sellers, asking them if they know any collectors or friends that I should get in touch with.
Nothing. No Dumitrescu shirt. Or any leads.
So I just buy some pins for my collection and walk into the stadium to take my seat. I bought myself some “Cacahuates japonéses” with lime juice and hot sauce and tried to consolidate myself for not finding the shirt.
But the story does not end here as I will go back to CDMX sometime soon and try once more. If you have any leads, please get in touch.
*On my last day in Mexico I got a lead to get in touch with a local collector nicknamed on social pages "Gabo MX" but unfortunately he did not answer my messages.
All of these experiences written above can be seen on my Instagram page through videos. That is the place where I will be posting also the Mexican players shirts I recently added to my collection.
This is what I learned from this trip:
- Mexico City is wild about football
- My unconditional love for Club America shirts is justified
- More Real Madrid fans on the streets, than Barcelona
- Estadio Azteca is not as grandiose as legends say
- Nobody knows anything about modern Romanian football (after 94')
- Lots of women in the stadiums, more passionate than the guys next to them
- Players are allowed to use 3 digit numbers on their match shirts.
Football stars who played in Mexico that you might not have know:
- Pep Guardiola
- André-Pierre Gignac
- Mauro Camoranesi
- Keisuke Honda
- Miodrag Belodedici and Ilie Dumitrescu
I regularly post stories about Romania match worn shirts on Instagram.
If you want to get in touch with me you can find me there: https://www.instagram.com/onromanianfootball/
On Romanian Football articles:
If you have a recommendation of a book that I have to read or if you have a project in mind about football or sports in general write me at:
hello [at] jeanpopescu.com